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The Wizard of Oz

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1939

‘…The Wizard of Oz can mean anything to anyone, and often does; if nothing else, it’s a accessible, malleable text that means just-about something to just-about everyone, so you might as well just kick back and enjoy…’

‘We’re off to see the Wizard…’ 1939’s iconic musical fantasy seems to have gained a static, indelible point in cinematic history; a film so widely seen that quotes from it can be slipped into everyday life with no explanation or context, a film consumed by children, then adults, the effects of watching it through a hail of booze and drugs have been discussed elsewhere. As the years go by, it begins to command the sentimentality in our lives that our parents had for it; a staple of television rotation, The Wizard of Oz does not mention Christmas or even religion once, but the giddy mix of witches and flying monkeys is arguably the most familiar Christmas movie of all.

Months ago, I picked up a blu-ray of Victor Fleming’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s story in a charity shop bin, and stashed it away for a potential Christmas Eve watch, where the garish colours and mood changes are laid bare on HD. We see Judy Garland, 12 going on 40, singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow with a air of melancholy that doesn’t seem right for Dorothy, a simple farm girl who dreams of a different life. A tornado, still an amazing effect to behold, lifts Dorothy up and away to the land of Oz, where she follows the yellow-brick road to confront the wizard. Of course, it’s the friends that Dorothy makes along the way that make it, friends who seem familiar from her old life at the farm…

Perhaps being imprinted on so many young minds has allowed The Wizard of Oz to inhabit some kind of sweet spot where any inadequacies are overlooked; it can represent a dust-bowl treatise on the dangers of capitalism, a covert message about female or gay emancipation or a celebration of capitalism and a firm warning to the population to forget their dreams and stay at home much like the similarly stay-put messaging in It’s A Wonderful Life. The songs are short and bunched together, there’s too much Munchkin protocol, some of the sets are quaint heading towards garish; not every moment is magical. And even for a kids fantasy, this doesn’t make much sense; good witch Glinda could have ended Dorothy’s quest at any time, but we assume that she’s teaching some kind of humbling lesson to Dorothy, helping her avoid the kind of hubris that hobbled the Wicked Witch when she chose to confront Dorothy right beside a potentially lethal bucket of water. But the overall package is still effective; the musical-hall songs and vaudevillian posing as Dorothy and her friends head down the Yellow Brick Road are beyond criticism.

The Wizard of Oz, like Alice and Wonderland, changes over time to reflect different meanings, but at heart, it’s saying ‘don’t bother looking to others to solve your problems, solve them yourselves’. It could be saying that there’s every reason to think for yourself and question authority, but it could equally be saying the opposite; The Wizard of Oz can mean anything to anyone, and often does. If nothing else, it’s a accessible, malleable text that means just-about something to just-about everyone, so you might as well just kick back and enjoy. So, in summation, a very merry Christmas 2022 to all who read this.

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  1. One of the best examples of the after-life of a feature. The movie was MGM’s third-biggest reissue success in the 1940s – $1 million in rentals. There was another half million in the kitty in the mid- 1950s, the studio’s biggest success. Even after it became a television perennial starting 1956 – 38 screenings in 42 years – it became the focal point of MGM’s Children’s Matinee reissue series in the 1970s. UA picked it up in the mid-1970s, a double bill with Singin’ in the Rain hot property at arthouses before MGM hooked it again for an oldies parade, cinemas committing to a 15-movie program over 5 weeks. Three million videos were sold on its 50th anniversary, pulling in $60-$70 million. In 1998 the restored cinema version was released on 2,000 screens, mopping up another $20 million, followed by $38 million on video. The 3D/Imax version in 2013 brought in another $5 million. You can add gazillions more for syndication, DVD, streaming etc.

  2. I watched Return to Oz the other night, funnily enough. It’s about as unlike its predecessor as possible and I’m not sure what audience March had in mind (is this really a children’s movie?) but I found it pretty compelling.

  3. Merry Christmas! I love The Wizard of Oz more and more the hundreds of times I’ve watched it. Probably the oldest movie that just about every generation has seen. My mom passed it down to me and I plan on passing it down to my kids. I find it incredibly difficult to criticize any part of the movie. For me the message is, “Home is where the heart is.” The greatest adventure you’ll have is with the people closest to you. At least that’s my take away.

    P.S. It’s not a lot, but religion is technically mentioned near the beginning when Auntie Em refuses to tell off Ms. Gulch because she’s a Christian woman.

    • Good spot, I’ll adjust my text later. As you say, probably the oldest movie that everyone knows, and you’ve got a nice clear take=away too.

      Merry Christmas indeed!

  4. Thank you for solving an unrelated problem. I’ve written before about a dear friend that died about a decade ago. Jinn was THE biggest fan of The Wizard and talked me into viewing the movie for a 3rd time on Christmas Day when I was 15. Everyone else was off to see Billy Jack or a holiday horror flick… while munching theatre popcorn, which I usually refused to eat, she’d whisper and share hidden meanings in the film and remind me Dorothy was the first US feminist. “That’s the golden path to enlightenment,” she’d say, “why do you supposed she met scarecrow first?” When she got a migraine, the Wiz was one of the books I’d read to her in her darkened bedroom. Before I knew it, I too was looking for hidden symbolism and occult messages. I found a quote from Blavatsky Baum perhaps used to create Dorothy’s 3 companions, ‘no danger courage can’t conquer, no trial a spotless purity and strength of character can’t pass through, no difficulty a strong intellect can’t surmount.’ Many think Baum was writing about challenges of gilded age, that one of Dorothy’s companions was really populist pres candidate William Jennings Bryan (rhymes w lion). Her silver shoes (book) was the cord linking to her spiritual self & journey. What a ‘wiz of a wiz’ you are to write about this ‘Die Hard’ holiday flick and reveal the hook I needed to begin writing about my friend and the complicated life she led. Happy Yule and a brilliant new year to you and yours.

    • Any unlocking of cosmic tumblers is purely accidental on my part. This film is everywhere, it seems to be embedded in our DNA, although no two people may have the same meaning for it. As with Lewis Carroll, the intended meaning may well be a red herring; there’s a school of thought that sees the brick road as representing the good standard. But I think the film has drifted via many happy accidents into something else; a manta that can work for everyone. It’s such a strange text, shorn of the romance between Dorothy and the Scarecrow. When Dorothy arrives in Oz, she kills, and then kills again, in self defence, sure, but I can’t imagine Pixar living that outline. We see what we want to see, and in this case, I want to see a very merry Christmas to you, and I’ll be over for my festive read soon…

  5. OR…..
    there’s no message at all and you’re just making stuff up! I choose that option 😀

    Merry Christmas to you and the Mrs and a God blessed New Year to you both!

  6. It still amazes me every year how many kids come to my house on Halloween dressed as Dorothy. The Wizard of Oz has become embedded in our DNA as few films have. Still a favorite for me, and one that is somehow more than the sum of it’s parts.

    I like to cackle “Poppies will make them sleep” every time I eat a poppyseed bagel. Surely I can’t be the only one….

    Merry Christmas!

    • And there’s no bad situation that can’t be redeemed by shouting ‘and your little dog too!” And still to this day, every kids knows this story, it’s literally never gets old despite being so 1939…

  7. I still sing the ‘if I only had a brain’ song to myself when I lose/forget things! Lovely nostalgia. I was too young when I saw it to analyse it, so nice that you have done. Merry Christmas to you and Mrs.Dix 😘

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